If you’ve been a coach, teacher, parent of a teenager (I’ve been all of these), or anyone else whose job it is to “motivate” others to do something, you know that applying external forces (rewards, punishment, threats) can be quite effective in many instances — in the short term. But if you want your athletes, students, kids, or employees to be their best at whatever the task is, ultimately they have to want to do it for themselves. Somehow in the last decade that very simple, universally true concept has been lost on many health promoters.
What began as an enticement (cash or gift cards) to get more people to complete a health risk appraisal has morphed into elaborate systems of financial rewards/penalties for wellness participation and then, ultimately, outcomes (get healthy… or else). But the wasted money is the least expensive part of this failed experiment. The true cost of making something as deeply personal as health choices about money is a culture where it’s more difficult for people to want to do something good for themselves (just tell me what I need to do to get the money).
If your management has been wise enough not to be seduced by the empty promises of cash for health improvement, you have the chance to create a fertile environment where individuals, groups, and the entire organization can see intrinsic motivation flourish. Here’s how:
Change your mindset about wellness — from something you do to an atmosphere you create. People are ready to change their health behaviors when they’re ready, not necessarily when making their open enrollment decisions or when your annual HRA goes online. You can’t impose it. But you can be positioned with the tools and resources, the voluntary interventions, and the attitude that says “I’m ready to help you when you want the help.” In that way, you’ll do more to influence the health of those you serve than all the cash, badges, gadgets, portals, and coaches you could throw at your population.